Thursday, January 14, 2010

Peter Jackson: The Lovely Bones

Transforming a beloved book into a film is always a huge risk. Alice Sebold's tale of tragedy, loss, and renewal is such a novel and Peter Jackson is the brave filmmaker who volunteered for the job.

The task was even more challenging since the book doesn't conform to any standard structure. The story is told from the point of view of Susie Salmon, a teenage girl who is brutally raped and murdered at the outset. Despite coming to such a violent and ugly end, as Susie watches her family from a place beyond death, she sees beauty in the connections and new beginnings the demise of her earthly body creates. It's this juxtaposition, that Sebold somehow made work on paper, which created such a strong reaction in readers. Many took great comfort in the author's vision of the afterlife, though Sebold wrote it from an agnostic perspective, which caused the devout to complain about her seemingly godless (and judgment-less) heaven. Others rejoiced in her ability to subvert the darkness of humanity, and in her capacity for finding light where there should be nothing but night.

There was therefore a difficult balancing act that was intrinsic to the success of the movie. The book was criticized by some for being too saccharin, yet if Jackson departed too far from its strangely uplifting tone he risked alienating its large and loyal following. Conversely, graphically depicting the rape and murder of a teen could easily be perceived as being gratuitous on screen, yet acknowledging that such a cruel and tragic event had happened was essential to the core of the piece.

Jackson worked on the screenplay with Lord of The Rings collaborators Philippa Boyens and Fran Walsh (who's also his partner in life). Though the psychedelic dream/afterlife sequences allowed the team to draw on their familiar fantasy filmmaking background, the gritty, true-to-life segments, set in the suburbs of Philadelphia in the 1970s, have overtones from Jackson's earlier work - namely Heavenly Creatures (a period movie released in '94 that Jackson co-wrote with Walsh, which explored the 1954 Parker-Hulme murder).

Thus the movie will not necessarily appeal to Jackson's Lord of The Rings film fans, nor will it sit well with all who loved Sebold's book. Jackson is prepared for a mixed reaction however. Here he talks about The Lovely Bones' journey to the big screen, and his reasons for making the choices he did.

Click through to read SuicideGirls' Q&A with Peter Jackson.

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